Finding Friends in Middle-Age

You spent your life working and now, God willing, you’re looking at retirement. You’ll have time, glorious time! So you blow out the candles, go home with your plaque and sleep in the next day.

At first your life is full. You repot those straggly houseplants and organize your closets. Take a bag full of business outfits to Goodwill. Cook from your dusty recipe book. Watch the morning news shows. Meditate. Go to the gym right in the middle of the day. Woo hoo, livin’ la vida loca, girl!

But pretty soon you get caught up. Your calendar says your week is filled, but it’s all mundane: take dog to groomer, get nails done, don’t forget mammogram. Maybe you start a business from the guest bedroom, and that keeps you so busy that you don’t mind the absence of those coffee-fueled morning conversations you used to have with your buddies at work. If you’re lucky enough to have somebody at home whose company you enjoy, that helps. But after a while, you notice you don’t have any women friends. There’s something missing in your life, and it’s uncomfortable.

That’s how it went for me, anyway. At middle-age, I realized I had few friends. Worse, I didn’t know how to find new ones.

I’m an introvert so it was even more daunting.

So I read The Friendship Crisis: Finding, Making, and Keeping Friends When You’re Not a Kid Anymore by Marla Paul. Marla says finding new friends at our age is harder because our peers aren’t looking. By now, they generally have all the friends they need, so you have to sort of sneak up on them. You go where the prospects are, engage in an activity that makes you happy on its own merits, and then you and the targets just naturally fall into conversation (keeping it light at first). If there’s a spark, you’ll know. Bonus points for meeting multiple times at the activity (pottery class, golf, book club) without the pressure of a first date (“Hey, want to get a cup of coffee sometime?” is awkward, IMHO).

I know you want me to end this with “…and then after a while I had tons of friends!!” but that didn’t happen. At the time I was living in Palm Desert, California, where half my neighbors were snowbirds who left town six months out of the year. The rest of the population was at work. Tumbleweeds blew down the street. So Bill and I moved to what Dr. Phil would call a target-rich environment: a 55+ community an hour away where the residents live year-round and are eager to make friends. I joined activities that made me happy, like book club and golf, and friendships began to form.

I now know that the best way to make friends later in life is to find the activity and let the friendship follow. That’s my advice, but maybe you have some ideas, too. Have you had this experience, and if so, how did you handle it?

Comments

  1. says

    Lynne, I have told you before how I enjoy reading what you write. You always tell it like it is. I appreciate that. At age 63, I can relate even though I am not retired. There is no Bill in my life and I have faced the fact that time is moving fast. I had a dream to be able to move to a 55 conmunity. Now that dream has changed to a senior apartment community when I can meet their qualifications. Like you, I enjoy my online friends which sometimes substitute for family. The lonliness now is just much needed quiet time. We are all different. Friendships are special and I have a great appreciation for each person that has been put into my life along the way. That includes you with what you write. Thank you.

    • says

      Ann, I am humbled by your comments. This world which now includes the Internet can really keep us from feeling alone, but as busy as I get sometimes, just to BE alone for a few days, unplugged, would be heaven. I hope you can get into the senior apartments. I’ve checked some out in the southern California area with friends and many of them are really great!

  2. says

    Peggy, have you tried Meetup.com? There might be some options for you. I identify with the ladies who have too much to do to get together for meals or whatever after a meeting. Everybody is rushing, so don’t take it personally but it’s bound to happen! I’ve noticed that one of the groups I’ve been with for a couple years is starting to plan outside activities. It came up sort of organically. One noticed an author reading in a distant city; then there is the monthly music thing at the Diamond Valley Art Center in Hemet. Now that group is looking to ride the train into LA one day for a free exhibit of wardrobes from the movies. It started with somebody bringing in a clipping from the newspaper, or something they printed out from the Internet, and the question, “I don’t know if anybody else would be interested, but…” So a tentative new habit is forming. This kind of gathering is less intense than a shared meal, esp. for people who might be shyer than you think but are still sociable. Best wishes!

    • Peggy says

      Thanks, Lynn. Waiting for a call-back from the dentist….so decided to check on comments. Your suggestions are great. And, nah…I’m not taking it personally that some people are too swamped to meet for lunch after our critique group…I’m one of those who “fizzled”…those things last half a day as it is, and everyone I know (including moi) lead busy lives. But, I think the friendship of women is important and I miss those connections…hoping to make new connections, soon. I’ve never heard of meetup.com. I’ll try that. Thanks so much.

  3. Peggy says

    Perfect post at a perfect time in my life, Lynn. Since we just moved here, other than my next door neighbor, a couple of ladies in Los Angeles (nearly 2 hours away) and the people in our critique group, I don’t know ANYONE in or near Hemet. I feel pretty isolated and I really miss my “gal pals” from northern CA and from Colorado. I tried to get the women from the critique group together for lunch. That seems to kind of be fizzling…I think too many of us have things to do afterwards. Probably around March my husband and I will join Friends of the Library and the Diamond Valley Art Association in hopes that we can do some good for our community and maybe I’ll make a friend or two there, but I’d love to make friends with another woman or two to have lunch with some days, to go wine tasting with, to enjoy “girls night out” for a movie, or just invite women over for “social hour” or even just be able to pick up a phone and talk to another woman…all my dear friends are far, far away.

    I’m lucky to have a great husband, but a husband is not the same a girlfriend… I’m a bit lonely, to tell the truth. I’m thinking about starting a “Newcomers” group for women past 50 who are new to the Hemet area and just want to get together for some fun activities once or twice a month in hopes that I can connect with some other women that way, but not sure how to go about that. For six years up north I belonged to a “Goddess Group” — a small group of women who met socially once a month. Someone would do a short presentation on one of the Goddesses from one or another tradition…it was informative and fun, not “religious” in any way, and then we’d enjoy pot luck lunch and champagne. Sometimes we’d go on a “field trip.” I made wonderful friends that way. Maybe we need a Goddess group in Hemet? Although my home is small, I’m willing to host if anyone is interested. Looking to make good friends in a good way.

  4. says

    Hi, Lynn, and thanks for the great article. Because I can make friends on an iceberg, I have not had the problem that you talk about. However, I do go in with engines roaring to every new place. The first place I lived after my husband died was in a Tennis resort. I still had to support myself and did medical transcription from home. This allowed me time to either play in the morning and work at night, or vice-versa. The first thing I did was go into the office and ask if they had a newsletter. When they said no, I said…Well I’d be happy to do one for you, and they asked me how much I would charge. I didn’t even think about the money, I just thought it would be a good way to meet people. I figured if I did an article on the home-owners, that would get my foot in the door. By year’s end, not only did I know everyone, but I knew all about them and the horse they rode in on. So my advice to some of your lonely readers is to get out there, offer to do something in the community where they might meet people. Working from home is a lonely job, but get on that iceberg and start marketing yourself.

  5. nanci says

    Absolutely…. I still have a photo of Pam, you and me by the ship’s life preserver. I looked at it recently when I moved. I feel so fortunate to have reconnected through your wonderful blog.

  6. nanci says

    This is a real issue for those of us who have had wandering feet through the years. Now that I am settled in one spot I am opening casual friendships here through yoga, Book Club and art classes.
    There are a few people from my last few years at work who I stay in touch with, but I don’t have the one or two BFFs that are in constant contact that I had when younger and friendships seemingly appeared like magic. I miss those sorts of friends, but I am happier with myself than I have ever been so I don’t feel desperate.
    I find it difficult to connect with someone outside of the activities I meet them in. I am a bit introverted and I know that I just need to make the call to invite someone to do something. It seems hard though. Ya know, there are a lot of people like me who are waiting for someone to make the first move. I know I just need to get over myself and do it…. nothing tragic will happen if I do, and nothing magical will happen if I don’t. Here’s to the chutzpah!

  7. says

    This is a great post, Lynn. It is difficult to make new friends as we get older, and I stay so busy working on my new venture that it makes it even more difficult. I know that I don’t put enough time into it, but I do miss having women friends.
    Laura

  8. says

    I’m still working, but I work for myself and have very few colleagues around who do what I do. Sometimes that can get lonely. Fortunately, I have friends from other professions to be pals with. Having spent a great number of my earlier working years moving around a bit, I know how hard it can be to make friends, too, at any age. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head — find activities you love and the friends will follow! Thanks for another thought-provoking post!

  9. says

    Lynne, you always speak to me! I couldn’t agree with you more about finding the activity and the friends will follow. I have been lucky enough to retire recently and transition from 44 years of nursing to writing fulltime and look at how many friends I’ve found here! Church, Zumba, Writer’s Group,etc also all help me stay connected with my girlfriends. I’m busier than ever and loving it! Thanks for another great post that resonates.

  10. says

    Volunteering is a great way to meet people passionate about something that is dear to your heart, and some solid friendships can be made fairly quickly. All while you do good!

    • says

      Ann, that’s usually a solid pathway toward friendship, but I tried it once and it didn’t work for me. Probably because the actual volunteer activity and setting was a total bust. But again, if the ACTIVITY gratifies you, friendship may or may not follow but you’ll be happy and around other people, which comes pretty close.

      • says

        Lynne, I’ve had that experience volunteering also. I’ve found it difficult to find a niche there, since the majority of other volunteers are either much younger or much older. I’ve learned for myself that my best “good” work is done anonymously.

  11. says

    Lynne – I think you read my mind sometimes.
    I, like Libby, am a freelancer and missing the social environment from work. I quit my job last May, but still having trouble trying to figure out what to do about friends. Still connecting with work friends, but less and less. Besides, one is moving to the other coast next month (i’m in S Florida), one is getting ready to retire and move to the Villages. My sweetheart is retired and much less fun than he used to be.
    We live in a retirement development but most are at least 20 years older. I tried to join in at the pool, but then they want to suck you into working at lunches, etc. And all they talk about is – what needs fixing around here, or other friends that are out of earshot. Don’t want to get into that.
    I really need to making a living, but my emotional well-being needs real conversation sometimes. I’m going to look into volunteering – somewhereeeee!

    Thanks for the post.

    • says

      Vonnie, you’re such a go-getter you’ll get there, I know. And I hear you about the retirement community thing. I live in one where the residents are more active and busy than maybe is the norm, so I might have an inflated sense of how cool these places are. But still.

      I volunteered in the sense that I joined a women’s writing/art/music group, and after a couple years got on their board. It opened up all kinds of doors to other activities (resulting in teaching this webinar – http://www.nlapw.org/pen-women-on-line/ – next week on selling your product via social networking) that actually pay genuine money. So keep your eyes open for that pathway, which incidentally led to a heck of a lot of nice friendships.

  12. says

    Let’s see if I can say this in less than 25,000 words. Middle aged husband & I chose to move cross country to retirement spot prior to actual retirement so we could be settled w/new friends upon actual retirement. Selling house, moving belongings, getting new jobs, buying house in new location: easy. Friends: not. Have been here 2 years. We do not have the required big three: a) children, 2) religion, 3) a job at the local university, so making friends has been a Sisyphean (is that a word?) ordeal. We are just now beginning to make friends, but after enduring near solitary isolation, culture shock, and meaningless employment, I keep the thought of spending the rest of my life here out of my head. The despair would be unbearable. However, I have grown exponentially through this experience, the Internet has been an absolute GODSEND, and the friends we are now making will last a lifetime. (Less than 200 words; goal!)

    • says

      You did good, Linda! Just keep doing stuff that makes you happy anyway, and maybe helps you sidle up to your targets. Catch ‘em unawares. You might see something you like enough to do it twice, three times…and here’s another thing: I don’t look for DEEP friends at this age. I look for comfortable friends. If something happens and I need deep, they’ll come through. Happy hunting!

  13. says

    In 2004, my husband died. Although he had been suffering from serious heart disease, his death was ultimately hastened by a car accident. I found myself alone in a city far from most of my friends. I was 57 years old. I had some work-buddies, but not the kind I got together with after work. I found a couple of grief sites online that got me through the early intense grief. After a few months, I attended a local grief group, and found a new friend. About a year later, I found myself writing poems for the first time in 25 years. I decided this time to keep going with it. I joined a writing organization, doing some volunteer work with them. Through my poetry, I made a number of friends. These friendships have developed over the years into a strong support group. So, yes, Lynne. I found the friends after I found the activity. And it is a symbiotic relationship: the poetry interest strengthens the friendship, the friendship supports my poetry, and my friends and I support each other. (And I am still in contact with at least one of my online friends from the grief sites.)

    Carol

    • says

      Carol, here’s a hug via the Internet. I am sorry for your loss. Kudos to you for fighting your way back to the sunshine. Your comment really validates all my strategies. As a writer, I have also found other writers to be a great source of support and kindness. Best wishes.

  14. says

    Great piece of reflection for all women, not only retirees. I moved dozens of times and had to make new friends cross culturally. It is never easy, but internet has opened a new avenue for friendship. I have always wanted to belong to a writers group, but haven’t lived near anglophones for the past 3 decades. Now I consider my favorite bloggers, like you, my buddies too. Even though we’ve never met face to face, I look forward to reading your blog every week and feel a valuable connection.

  15. says

    Great post, Lynne! Having freelanced for many years, I know how daunting it can be to fill those yawning hours and to build relationships outside the home. You are so lucky to be retired. I won’t have that luxury because, unfortunately, I have no assets at age 50, so I will be working until I am 70 years old. Let’s pretend that’s a blessing. Might as well cast it in a positive light because unless I meet Mr. Right or win the Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes, it’s not likely to change!

    • says

      Libbye, I’m retired but I work about 30 hours a week, and mostly for free, so I’m not sure what to call that. (Stupid?) But anyway, I hope your work puts you in the path of opportunity to meet – if not deep friends, at least jolly acquaintances who make you feel connected to the world.

      And I can’t say enough for the Internet. “Lonely” isn’t as bad as it used to be. In fact, I can’t say I ever feel that way anymore, thanks to my online friends, like you!

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